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Love & Other Drugs - Edward Zwick interview

Edward Zwick directs Love & Other Drugs

Interview by Rob Carnevale

EDWARD Zwick talks about some of the challenges of making Love & Other Drugs, including tackling the amount of nudity and helping leading lady Anne Hathaway through some of the more difficult emotional scenes.

He also talks about some of his potentially forthcoming projects, including a new venture with Leonardo DiCaprio and a potential new whaling epic.

Q. This is a more intimate story than we’ve come to associate from you. Were you actively seeking something of a more intimate nature?
Edward Zwick: Yes, it’s true. I’ve always been interested in relationships in those larger stories anyway. I think that it was an opportunity to strip away some of the spectacle and the action and really focus on hopefully the performances. But frankly, it’s also a kind of a voice that I’d like to think that I’ve been dealing with more in some of the television work that I’ve done in years past… and having not done that in a while I really missed it.

Q. What were the issues you encountered when separating fact from fiction, especially when dealing with a real life drugs company such as Pfizer?
Edward Zwick: Well, obviously we’re making a fictional film and not a documentary, but that being said, we felt great licence to actually tell the truth because so much of it has been documented. It was coincidental that while we were shooting the United States Justice Department levied its largest fine in corporate history against Pfizer… that was $2.3 billion for various repeated offences, many of which we talk about in the film. Not surprisingly, they paid the money and went on to have their stock price unaffected. But we’ve not heard from them directly.

I’ve spoken to some reps who have seen the movie, and some who were involved in that time, who feel that we’re accurate. Most surprisingly, last week a couple of reps who had been to Pfizer conventions at that time having seen the movie said: “How did you know what we did?” We thought it had been satire up to that point. But they said: “Oh dancing girls and fireworks…that was quite accurate!”

Q. How did you decide about how much nudity was required from your leading actors?
Edward Zwick: I’ve been asked a lot of about it and I tried to turn the question around in my head and I try to imagine if we’d done this movie without doing that. But when people are first in love and as into each other as these people are, that becomes their world. They eat there, they talk there, they sleep there, so everything is in that place. So, had we done the movie with the sheets pulled up to their necks like Rock Hudson and Doris Day in Pillow Talk it would have been very naff, I think. These are actors who are committed to authenticity so that they could approach this as they were scenes. If what they were doing was just being photographed making love, I think that would have been difficult and exploitative. But they had a lot of acting they had to do. They had a lot of lines and comedy and transitions and emotions and things to get to. I guess, the absence of clothes was their costume.

Q. Can you speak a little bit about the emotional effect the film had on Anne Hathaway? She seemed to indicate at the press conference that it was pretty difficult for her at times…
Edward Zwick: Yeah, she is a very committed artist and is demanding of herself. I think this was a very high degree of difficulty this film for a lot of reasons and as capable and as talented as she is, and as much as she’s done, she hasn’t done a lot of films like this. And so to encounter some of these challenges… it tested her and she’s so demanding of herself that she felt – and I did not feel and nor did Jake nor anyone feel – that she was wanting in that. But I think there were certain moments where she just felt that she had not necessarily accessed the depths and all the nuances that she felt that she could have. She was wrong and I think that she knows that now. But it’s a hard thing when you become aware that every shot is opening night and that everything you do of a certain day you’re not going to be able to do again because we were on a short schedule, but that it’s going to be in a movie. She wanted to make it so good. But even as she’s feeling that it may not be happening, in fact it is.

Q. When her character was added to the story, why was Parkinson’s picked as the disease for her?
Edward Zwick: I think in an age where there’s a quick pill for everything and a fix that’s being sold, here’s something for which there is no fix. And in a love story the idea that all of our youth and beauty is transient… but for a young woman to actually grapple with the fact that it’s actually going to be much faster, that gives it a particular poignancy I felt.

Q. How much research did you do into Parkinson’s? Who did you speak to?
Edward Zwick: Lots of neurologists, I went to support groups, I know a couple of people who are suffering from it and through an odd set of coincidences I’m in a relationship with Michael J Fox. I’d read his books and then spent some good time talking to him about it.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Love & Other Drugs

Q. The film at the Parkinson’s convention is tremendous in that it shows the resilience of the human spirit using humour. I assumed quite a bit of that wasn’t scripted?
Edward Zwick: Well, that’s funny… the one thing I wanted to say is that it can’t be funny enough. So, I wrote some of the stuff you see at the convention, and people did some things that I wrote, and then I kept the camera rolling and I got them to talk about themselves. Much of what’s in there are things that they just gave me. I could have made a half an hour documentary about it there was so much good stuff. But yes, it grounded the movie in that way.

Q. What about the husband of the victim’s reaction, when he outlines to Jake exactly what his character will be in for? Was that something you’d experienced through talking to people?
Edward Zwick: Well, I have known four different cases of people whose partners have encountered something quite grave: some debilitating, and others fatal. There is a multiplicity of reactions that people have. In three of those four cases, the people resolved to stay and the other one stayed but desperately unhappily and he said something sort of like this to me once. But the interesting thing about that scene I’ve always felt is that he stayed too.

Q. How did you tackle adapting a book and then incorporating an emotional element that isn’t in the book [the Parkinson’s element]?
Edward Zwick: I think the book provided extraordinary context, not only for Jake’s character, but for the universe. It was a moment in which this quiet revolution was happening in America because, for the first time, drugs were being advertised on television and sold directly to the consumer and that created a whole ambient world for the story. But the truth be known, that was our only point of departure and the creation of the story was very much an original creation of a love story that began with Marshall [Herskovitz] and I and carried through to include Jake and Anne.

It was remarkable for us all to be so personal and confessional about that and a lot of our experiences, not necessarily directly, but indirectly influenced that story and how we would approach various scenes. There are any number of conventions and pitfalls, or obligatory beats of a love story, and a lot of the things we asked ourselves was about how to subvert those. Inevitably, one character is going to say “I love you” to the other, but not necessarily when he’s having a panic attack in order to do that. Or she says “I love you” at a moment when he is most doubting even that possibility of what that implies. Or there’s a jealousy aspect that causes him to not be able to get an erection… these are beats that are necessarily going to be in a love story but it was our intention to find an original attack on each of them.

Anne Hathaway in Love & Other Drugs

Q. Back in the day, people said you were pushing the envelope with About Last Night and the way it discussed sex. Do you feel that this is a 21st Century variant or return to some of those themes?
Edward Zwick: Well, it’s interesting… when I look at that movie, or think about it because I really don’t think I could look at it, it was very innocent in some ways. The nature of his job was innocent and the stakes of the relationship were more innocent and less grave. What’s surprised me is that in the ensuing time between that movie and this movie there have been so few movies that have actually tried to do that kind of thing. I think the other difference is that we were very unrestrained in this movie and determined to be that way.

Q. Have you plans for any more historical epics?
Edward Zwick: There’s one thing that we have worked on and we’re having trouble getting the money for. It’s called In The Heart of The Sea and it won the National Book Award in the United States a number of years ago. It describes a whaling voyage from Nantucket, in which a whaling ship was attacked by a whale that [Herman] Melville used as the basis for Moby Dick.

Q. Will you get your whaling movie?
Edward Zwick: Not this year! So, that means maybe.

Q. So, what subject matter will you tackle for your next move, if not whaling?
Edward Zwick: I’m talking to Leonardo DiCaprio about something and we’re working on the script with a writer. It’s still in a very incubatory role but it’s more of a character piece.

Read our review of Love & Other Drugs